InDepth InterView: Rob Morrow & Robert D. Wachs Discuss New Paul Jabara Disco Musical LAST DANCE & More
Today we are focusing a super-special spotlight on one of the Fall's most intriguing musical entries trying out in New York, the York Theatre Company's lab mounting of the new Paul Jabara jukebox musical LAST DANCE, by talking to the show's lead, recognizable TV and film star Rob Morrow, and the show's lead producer, noted comedic shepherd and filmmaker Robert D. Wachs, who filled me in on all aspects of the show in a comprehensive chat late last week just prior to Monday's start of rehearsals. In this all-encompassing conversation, Morrow, Wachs and I discuss the genesis of the new disco-themed musical celebrating the life and career of Jabara, the accomplished Emmy, Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer of Broadway shows (RACHAEL LILY ROSENBLOOM… AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT), movie songs ("Last Dance" from THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY; the titular "The Main Event") and numerous pop/rock/disco hits, such as "It's Raining Men" by The Weather Girls, Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer's epic disco duet "Enough Is Enough (No More Tears)", Whitney Houston's "Eternal Love" and his many solo hits, as well as the finer points of the story, concept, casting and the ultimate goals of the new Philip William McKinley-directed production, which features a book by Shaun McKenna. Additionally, Morrow and Wachs each generously share showbiz tales from their storied careers involving such big names as Eddie Murphy, Michael Bennett, Jonathan Larson, Tony Scott and many more and both copiously convey their infectious enthusiasm for the forthcoming fully-produced lab presentation of the new musical that will play for five performances beginning September 20 as they prepare for its first viewing before a paying audience. All of that and much, much more awaits in this Labor Day treat!
LAST DANCE plays September 20–23 at The York Theatre at Saint Peter's, located in the Citicorp Building, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue.
For additional information and tickets, please visit the York's official website here.
PC: While SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER was a moderate hit on Broadway a decade or so ago, there has never been a truly great disco musical - DREAMGIRLS is the only memorable original show to really touch the genre and PRISCILLA used many different composer's catalogs. Subsequently, LAST DANCE is the first project of its kind in that respect. So, is now the time for a disco musical on Broadway?
RW: All of these projects - whether it's a movie, a television project or a stage piece or whatever - take years! The gestation period for a movie is seven, eight years. We can only hope that this will work now - and we are very excited about this new presentation.
RM: Yeah, it's really exciting to be the first on the block with the disco. You know, I have been reading a lot about it and listening to the music and it is such a rich time - there is just so much going on. From the political upheavals to the origins of disco to the homosexual liberation - it's just so rich and the fact that we haven't seen it on Broadway? If we get it right, it could be really interesting and a lot of fun.
PC: Much like in Michael Jackson's passing his music was reappraised, so, too, is Donna Summer's catalog now having a resurgence of popularity following her death - and, by extension, Paul Jabara's work, as well.
RW: It's very interesting you say that, Pat - about Michael and Donna - because in our show is also the first song Whitney Houston ever recorded.
PC: How unfortunately timely. What song is that?
RW: "Eternal Love" - a gorgeous ballad. I'll tell you the story: I had met Paul one day, purely by accident, up in the office of a music company - he was complaining about not getting royalties on something of his and I was complaining about not getting royalties on an Eddie Murphy comedy album. He said to me, "What are you doing here?" and, I said, "Nothing," so, he said, "Come to my apartment. I have a song I want to play for you." And, I said, "Well, what's the song?" and, he said, "I have this girl I am going to use to record this song tomorrow," and, so, we went and he sat down and he began playing "Eternal Love" and he becomes Whitney Houston singing the song, full-out, right before my eyes. It was incredible.
PC: A great story.
RW: He was a tremendous talent. So, that song is in the show, as well as a lot of Donna Summer, of course, too.
PC: What was Paul like as a man?
RW: Oh, he was so, so sweet.
RM: You can tell from the footage that is out there of him that he was just so loved - Merv Griffin especially just loved him; he was positively effusive about him on the air! Donna Summer just loved him, too. You can see his energy in the movies he did and the clips there are out there of him - he was just a sweet, genuine guy. I'm not saying he wasn't temperamental and crazy at times, but it seemed like everything extended from that basic goodness within him and everyone pretty much recognized that in him. That's what I am taking away from all that stuff.
PC: How insightful.
RW: Yeah, I totally agree with Rob - Paul was a really good guy, but he has his quirks. I remember that when I first met him it was the early 1980s and he had just won the Academy Award in 1978 - wherein he had locked Donna Summer in a bathroom in Puerto Rico and wouldn't let her out until she agreed to record "Last Dance"… [Laughs.]
PC: What a story!
RW: It's true! So, as I said, I met him up at this record company's office and we were discussing not getting royalties, and, so, after that, we became friends - not great-great friends, but we'd talk from time to time and so on. He was very pixie-ish, and, as Merv Griffin said to him in an interview, "Paul, if you had your way you would be the only man in show business." [Laughs.] And Paul laughed and agreed!
PC: He did it all - and wanted it all.
RW: He did. He really did. You know, they would be out in LA and they'd be at somebody's house and he would say, "OK, everybody, that's it! We're going back to my place," and then everyone would moan and groan. Then, he would say, "No, no - it's time for the show." And, so they'd go and he'd sing and entertain everyone for an hour. That was Paul.
PC: Does Rob play Paul in LAST DANCE?
RM: Yeah - well, I play a version of him, I would say.
PC: He has a very memorable musical number in THE DAY OF THE LOCUST that many movie fans may know him for, but besides that he may not be known as a personality to very many. Has that clip been influential to you in particular in any way?
RM: Oh, yeah - I mean, I've just been watching everything! I am just trying to get into his skin - it's not necessarily him I am playing, per se, but I am just trying to get to his essence. I am taking some license with it, but I am trying to have him be there in me as much as possible.
PC: Did either of you get to see his sole Broadway musical, RACHAEL LILY ROSENBLOOM… AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT? It only ran for a few performances and closed before opening night.
RW: No, I didn't.
RM: No, but, believe ir ot not I was Michael Bennett's assistant in 1982 on DREAMGIRLS…
PC: What a fascinating fact - heretofore unknown, at least to me. It was rumored Bennett was asked to come in and look at RACHAEL. Do you know anything about that?
RM: I got to work with him a few years later, so I really can't say that I know.
PC: Was that entire experience just exhilarating? Bennett was coming off his peak.
RM: Oh, my God - yes! I have so, so many stories…
PC: Would you share one or two?
RM: Oh, sure - here's one: OK, so I was just this PA gofer on DREAMGIRLS and Michael Bennett was just out of control - brilliant, but out of control.
PC: In what ways?
RM: Well, we would be rehearsing at 890 and he would stop everything and frantically collect everyone's money and give it to me - which would be like probably $100 - and he would ball it all up and give it to me and say, "Go get me $100 worth of Bic lighters; every place I turn I want to see a Bic lighter." You see, he wanted to be able to reach when he was choreographing or whatever he was doing and be able to pick up a lighter to light his cigarette - wherever he reached he wanted to be able to just pick up a Bic lighter. So, everywhere you looked there would be Bic lighters… [Laughs.] It was crazy.
PC: Indeed. What other experiences do you remember having?
RM: Well, after that, he cast me in I think the only drama he ever directed - it was a play called THIRD STREET and it was about three guys in Brooklyn sort of coming of age, smoking pot in a graveyard. So, Michael was doing this teeny tiny little play up in his giant 890 Broadway and there was nobody there except me, Keith Gordon, this guy named Brian Tarantina and a couple of staff people. So, we would be rehearsing, just wandering around, and he would disappear. So, we'd go into his office to find him, and, you know, at 11 AM he'd be sitting there, the incongruous mogul, in jeans and a t-shirt with his feet on the desk, with a drink, a joint and lines of coke out on the desk, talking on the phone.
RW: Oh, my God! [Laughs.]
PC: What a way to start the day!
RM: I know, right?! Then, he'd come into rehearsal and he would say that it would be a good idea for everybody to get stoned together, so we'd all get stoned and nothing would ever get done. [Laughs.]
PC: And a similar process apparently birthed A CHORUS LINE, more or less.
RM: Totally! Totally. [Laughs.] The reason I bring that all up, though, is that Michael and Paul were really similar types. I mean, even at his worst, Michael had a real sweetness to him, too, and people always loved him despite all of that - he was coming from a great place. He may have had megalomaniacal tendencies, but it was more out of artistic autonomy than out of just a desire for power. They had a really similar glint in their eye…
PC: A certain special something.
RM: Yeah. I mean, when I have been slowly getting into this character of Paul over the last couple of days and weeks, Michael just keeps coming up in my mind - again and again. I think that it's just so interesting how they intersect.
PC: Is the aura of Studio 54 going to have an influence on LAST DANCE, particularly given Paul's THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY success?
RW: I would say that this really has nothing to do with Steve Rubell and Studio 54 - there is more than enough with Paul's life and music.
PC: What can you tell me about the female trio in the show?
RW: We have a wonderful ingenue by the name of Jill Shackner, another fabulous performer named Anastacia McClesky and a truly wonderful surprise in Katrina Lenk who will be portraying those roles. They are all fantastic.
PC: Philip William McKinley is known for directing big shows, so is the ultimate goal for LAST DANCE an arena-type production or something more scaled back and intimate - or something else?
RW: LAST DANCE is about five characters - it's a very simple, wonderful story. It's all about the actors, the book and the music - of course it can expand from there, but, no, it is not an arena show. It's a show that makes you cry and makes you laugh - a simple story that takes place today and has something to say to our times while reminding us of those times then, too.
PC: What can you tell us about the story of the show?
RW: It's about a girl who is helping pack up her mother's belongings and she uncovers something absolutely shocking about her mother by flipping through some photographs - her mother was a performer! She can't believe it - "I never knew this about my mother! My mother was a performer?!" And, then, this guy magically appears out of the blue to her and takes on multiple roles - and he is played by our very own Rob Morrow.
PC: And what can you tell us about this magical character?
RW: Well, he is a guy who once knew her mother, way back in the days of disco. The girl is shocked by all of this, of course - this guy appearing out of nowhere - but he says to her, "Just relax. Let me tell you this story: it's about your mother and your father." And, she says, "Wait, you knew my father, too?!" And, so, he says, "Bear with me..." Then, he announces that all of the music we are going to hear was written by a man who died twenty years ago by the name of Paul Jabara and we then find out how it all comes together over the course of the show.
PC: How did you become involved with LAST DANCE, Rob?
RM: Well, I had been looking to do a musical for a couple of years. You know, I've spent a lot of time writing music and performing my own little songs - I've always wanted to do something fun and a little challenging, and, so, my manager sent me this script for LAST DANCE. Then, I met Robert and we got along and he asked me to do the show - so here we are.
RW: When you have a star like Rob Morrow, you don't ask him to audition and we are very, very, very fortunate to have him. Rob's manager called us and told us that he read the script and was interested in the show, so we immediately set up a lunch date with Rob and Philip William McKinley and we all got along just wonderfully - we all got along great. He related to the material and we were all just holding our breaths from that point forward until he said, "Yes, I will do it."
PC: And that was the first time you met?
RW: Yep - that one lunch date was the first time we met.
PC: Did you grow up performing in musicals, Rob?
RM: Well, I never did a lot of musicals, but I can say that my first big part was playing Tevye in FIDDLER [ON THE ROOF] in high school.
PC: A great place to start! Was it a good experience?
RM: Well, I was basically such a good mimic that I just copied Zero Mostel from the album and did a pretty good sixteen-year-old's version of it, I think. [Laughs.] After that, I did a terrible, terrible Off-Off-Off-Broadway musical called RAGGED DICK, which was based on Horatio Alger's story. Then, later on, I did one more musical that was another ill-fated disaster called THE CHOSEN, based on the Chaim Potok book - that was with three directors during previews and was one of those things that just didn't make it, you know? But, yeah, I have studied voice and music - I sing all day every day, pretty much, as I said. I haven't really been available to do anything like this for about ten years, so now my schedule is a little bit more open. I will say that I came up in the New York Theatre and I was one of the co-founders of Naked Angels, so I spent my twenties doing hundreds of plays and I really felt like now was the time for me to get back onstage. I am really hoping that this will be the start of me doing a bunch of musicals.
PC: Tell me about the formation of Naked Angels - which still exists, correct?
RM: Yes, we do - 25 years, still going strong! You know, it came about like a lot of things do; a bunch of actors were sitting around saying, "We should really start our own theatre company," and, so, this time, we really did. Originally, it was eight of us who got together and we somehow were able to create this sort of critical mass that evolved to include lots of young, up-and-coming talent - writers to actors. You know, we've had Kenny Lonergan and Warren Leight and Jonathan Larson; RENT started as a workshop at Naked Angels, actually.
PC: What was Jonathan Larson like?
RM: Oh, I just loved him. I mean, there's another sweetheart of a guy like Paul and Michael - it was just so tragic when he died and the way that he died.
PC: A total shock.
RM: It was. It was so unnecessary and ridiculous. [Pause.] What a talent - what a loss.
PC: We are still feeling it to this day, no doubt.
RM: So many people came up through Naked Angels like he did - so many great writers and actors, especially. When we were at our height in the late-80s to the early-90s we actually had our own space on 17th Street that was just a great place to work and create in a completely un-pressured way - we were allowed to take risks and develop ourselves. For me, it gave me a great confidence that helped me so much in work - and, those are my best friends, still to this day; Gina Gershon, Fisher Stevens, Marisa Tomei, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica [Parker]; everyone.
PC: What a starry assortment of founders.
RM: You know, there was a quasi-dilettante aspect to it because we were known more for our parties than for our work. [Laughs.]
PC: Sounds like trouble!
RM: It was! It was. We would do like four shows a year and at the very end of the shows we would always have a party - the party would go until about 11 o'clock or midnight and then we would lock the doors and only the people who were the core group would stay and we would all do mushrooms. We would trip into the wee hours of the morning and just pile on top of each other - thirty people just piled on top of each other; just telling each other how much we love each other and everything. Then, we'd all spill out onto the street and play kickball at 4 in the morning out on 17th Street and I would wander home as the sun was rising. [Pause.] Those are some of my greatest memories.
PC: What a beautiful - and wild - memory.
RM: Totally. Totally.
PC: This new musical is actually not the first Rob Morrow project to possess this title - there is also the 1996 movie you did called LAST DANCE, co-starring Sharon Stone. Coincidence?
RW: Isn't that an amazing coincidence? So funny.
RM: It's so funny - a total coincidence, though. Of course, I knew it wasn't based on the movie when I heard about it because that would have probably come by a different avenue, but I couldn't escape the weirdness of it.
RW: Was that an enjoyable experience? Bruce Beresford is a truly underrated director.
RM: Yeah, I really like that movie a lot - some of the critics at the time called it a terrible movie, but I think it's great. What a pleasure it was to work with Bruce, too - he was one of the best directors I ever worked with. He was such a sort of eccentric character, too...
PC: In what way?
RM: Well, for example, one day he came to work and he had been having trouble with his neck - he was just so busy that he couldn't deal with it, though. He couldn't figure out what was wrong with his neck, and, so, one day at lunch he asked someone what they thought could be wrong and they looked in his jacket and saw the hanger was still in it! [Laughs.]
PC: That's hilarious! Was the script the first experience you had of the Paul Jabara musical or did you see a workshop?
RM: The script was the first time I came in contact with it. My manager sent it to me and I read it - I thought it was charming and I knew a lot of the songs, so I thought that other people would, too. I was curious how they were thinking of going with it, so I met with these guys and I really liked what they said.
RW: Rob and Phil really got along well and are going to get along well - we all are. I mean, I have been working on this for twelve years!
PC: Was clearing the rights for all these hits difficult?
RW: No, not at all - it actually was easy. I'll tell you the story: twelve years ago, I lived in Beverly Hills and I was sitting in my kitchen one day and out of the blue I said to myself, "No one has ever done anything with all of the work of Paul Jabara." So, I did some inquiries and I found out that the estate was in the control of his sister and her son - and, lo and behold, they lived in Brooklyn. So, I called them. It turns out that he had gone to the same prep school as I had, so I went to Brooklyn to meet them. Sitting in their kitchen, there is Paul's Academy Award for "Last Dance".
RW: So, of course, I have lawyers and they have lawyers and all of that baloney, so we spent a long time working it all out. Meanwhile, I started looking for a director and a librettist. I had a general manager, Albert Poland, and years and years ago I worked as a theatrical producer with him - Albert did 99 shows in his career - and we did a couple of shows…
PC: Such as?
RW: LET MY PEOPLE COME, which you may have heard mentioned…
PC: For its scandalousness - of course!
RW: [Laughs.] My then-mother-in-law thought it was a religious musical!
PC: That was a totally outrageous show.
RW: It was. It was a lot of fun - and a lot of headaches. So, anyway, about eight years ago Albert got us our director and we started working. We got one librettist and then we got another and then finally about six years ago we did a reading and then a year later we did a workshop and the reading was hysterical and great and the workshop wasn't. So, five years ago I was at square zero again, and, so, Phil says he has another librettist we should try, so we did. About two years ago, I said to Phil, "You just directed BOY FROM OZ - isn't there another librettist you can find who can make this work?" So, he said, "Oh, yeah - I have a guy I like who I work with sometimes." And, so, I said, "You have a guy who you like and work with and you've never told me about him?!" and I reached up to try to strangle him, but I'm not that tall… [Laughs.]
PC: And that's how you got Shaun McKenna.
RW: Right. We got Shaun McKenna on the phone and within two weeks he wrote us an absolutely perfect outline and so we got him to do the libretto, and, to this day, Shaun is our librettist. He did a really wonderful job, too. I fought really, really hard to get Philip William McKinley and it is not easy to get his attention, but now that we have his attention he won't stop!
PC: It's being birthed as we speak.
RW: It is. He and Shaun are constantly Skyping - there have been probably nine drafts since the last one Rob read! So, Shaun will be with us in rehearsal for a month and they will be re-writing and re-writing all along. Phil is just so fabulous because he knows what he wants - no matter what it is; logic, reason, passion, whatever. I know that he and Rob are going to have a great time creating this.
PC: What songs can we expect in the show - more specifically, what will you be singing, Rob?
RM: Well, there are about 25 songs in the show and I sing 14 of them.
PC: Wow! That's a lot of material to master in a short amount of time.
RM: It is. It is. [Laughs.] It's a ton of work to do - that's my one concern, because, essentially, from what I understand, we are mounting pretty much a full production with all of these 25 songs.
RW: You have to remember that this is done at the York Theatre, so, because of their Equity contract, it has to be considered a "lab", but this is going to be a full, professional production - there is no question about it.
RM: It's equivalent to the out-of-town tryout.
PC: How have you prepared for your role as a disco king thus far, Rob?
RM: Well, basically, I have been doing a lot of voice work and singing along to the songs - since we don't have the vocal parts all worked out until we get in the room together, it is more the general idea. I have been really immersing myself as much as I can in the period - the culture, the music, the times. I have been taking some dance classes, too, and getting myself all open to what this will all be - I am not going to be starting from zero, even though I might be starting at ten percent. You know, I just want to have some background before we jump in full-on.
PC: Many who know you from your TV and film work may not immediately see you as a Paul Jabara type, so how has that process of getting into his flashy, flamboyant skin been for you as a performer?
RM: Oh, it's been great. You're right - on the page, although I have all those colors in me, it is not the first thing you might see me in. Yet, I know I have all of that play and performance in me - you know, in the show, I go out into the audience and talk to people and there is a lot of that kind of stuff. I am pretty fearless and I am willing to try pretty much anything, so it basically comes down to: people see you in certain roles and that's how they see you; but, what you see is not necessarily what you get. After playing on NUMB3RS for years, I was offered lots of comic hard-ass roles - and that's not me, either.
PC: Some of the songs are quite range-y in their original versions. What's your range?
RM: Yeah, they are - I've got about two octaves and a note; I am a real comfortable singer, so I won't be singing any Cs or anything. I can definitely do what needs to be done, though. They are going to tailor it to whatever works best for me and what works for the show, I think, music-wise and dance-wise.
RW: Speaking of the music, let me just say, too, that Wendy Cavett is our musical arranger - who has been with MAMMA MIA for ten years.
PC: So, like MAMMA MIA, the arrangements are closely-tied to the originals?
RW: Oh, well, they are changing this and changing that - I will tell, she is just a brilliant, brilliant little ball of fire. She will do for our show what she did for MAMMA MIA and we couldn't be happier about it. She is just fabulous.
PC: What can we look forward to as one of your solo highlights?
RM: There is a really great big song called "Never Lose Your Sense Of Humor" that I am particularly fond of.
PC: A great song.
RM: Yeah - that is one of my character's big solos. I mean, I sing on everything, though - I even sing a little on "It's Raining Men".
RM: [Laughs.] Right! And, I sing on "Last Dance", too. As I said, 14 of 25 by my count - at least right now.
PC: Is "Two Lovers" by Julio Inglesias in the score?
RW: Not yet, not yet - but it very well may be. In the starting line-up, though; no.
PC: Is there any material from RACHAEL LILY ROSENBLOOM?
RW: No, there isn't.
PC: Is "Enough Is Enough" still done as a duet?
RW: Yes. "Enough Is Enough" is still a duet.
PC: You can't make that into a solo!
RW: Definitely not! It's still a duet - and what a duet!
PC: So, following this five-day lab presentation, what is the plan, Robert?
RW: The show will tell us! The show will tell us - it always does.
PC: Is Broadway the ultimate goal?
RW: Yeah, probably, but the show will tell us once we get it up and on its feet - I can't wait to see what happens. It's very exciting. With this cast and Jack Noseworthy - who is so wonderful - and Rob at the center, it will be hard to go wrong. Our cast is just out of sight.
PC: Will you be splitting your time between this and any other projects, Rob?
RM: Well, I just crossed my is and dotted my ts on something this morning and have a bunch of other stuff going on, but I have told everybody that I am not doing anything else for a month until I am done with this run. I don't want to think about too much else except for this while I am doing it.
PC: It will be all-consuming with such a huge role.
RM: You know, I do some producing and development of TV stuff, too, so there is some stuff coming up that I am attached to perform in, so I have to keep those balls in the air, too, but for the most part this is it.
PC: What can we look forward to you in on TV coming up?
RM: You know, I did a cool little arc on CSI: NEW YORK that starts when they premiere their season in September - like the 27th, I think - and that is a really trippy, weird part. I play this arsonist who is just crazy and it was very fun and trippy to do. I have a movie coming out right now called THE GOOD DOCTOR with Orlando Bloom, too, which is a really interesting, really cool little story. It's sort of unexpected - a sort of comment on the health care system - and Orlando is really great in it. I don't want to give it away, but it is a really scary kind of cautionary tale about doctors.
PC: What can you tell me about a new film you just shot, CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE?
RM: Oh, yeah! CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE? I forgot about that. That was sort of a lark but it ended up being a total blast. That, to me, will be a really interesting sort of meta-musical if it works - and, based on the music that I have heard from it it will be because the music is really great; Cee-lo has a song in it and Adam Levine is in it and it's really great. It's kind of what I would call a post modern musical because it is all about music - the music and the musicians and the business - but the songs are not set-pieces as much as they are organic. The songs move the story forward like they would in a musical, but they are not, like, break-out-into-song types of things; the performer gets up onstage and sings the song or the song is their new single being recorded in the studio or whatever the particular set-up is. The songs all move the story forward, though, too. It might end up being something really, really great, but it is not coming out for a little while, I think.
PC: You also recently did a short film called INTERCEPTION?
RM: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah - this guy who is on NUMB3RS with me asked me to come in and do a little scene in this short he was doing. It's a sweet short.
PC: Carla Gugino recently did this column and implied the ENTOURAGE movie may be happening after all. Would you like to be involved? Do you have any insider info?
RM: Oh, yeah - I would beg to be in it! You know, it's funny how that all came about - Doug and I play golf together and one day he asked me if I wanted to come and be on the show. And, so, I said, "Just tell me where to be when and I will be there!" I am just such a huge fan of the show I'd said I'd do anything, so he had me come in and play [Jeremy] Piven's lawyer, which was really so much fun. It was a little surreal doing a scene with Piven - who I know socially - and be in that office, playing against him, in this show that I had seen every single episode of. It was a new experience. [Laughs.]
PC: For most males in their twenties and thirties, ENTOURAGE is about as cool and enviable as TV gets.
RM: Yeah, man - I just love that show. Love it. You know, when they were first putting that show together they actually were considering me for Piven's part, but it felt too familiar to me so I told them that I wanted to play the movie star. So, after that, they were like, "The movie star? Yeah, forget it." [Laughs.]
PC: With the recent wave of successful HD and 3D re-releases of past big hit films, I am curious what your thoughts are on potentially re-releasing any of the many hit titles you produced in your career, Robert - COMING TO AMERICA and BEVERY HILLS COP, in particular?
RW: Oh, I think the re-releases are a great idea. I think it's fantastic. You know, so many young people don't know the history - Cole Porter? "Who's that?" Rodgers & Hammerstein? "Who's that?" They don't know anything! So, you wonder: how do you get these young people to at least be aware of this stuff and make up their own minds about it? So, I think that for that reason the re-releases are great. I think the more the merrier. I would love to see some of my films come back to theaters - and it's not just about the money; I'm joking. [Laughs.]
PC: It certainly can't hurt to fill the coiffeurs again.
RW: In all seriousness, Pat, I think it's a really great thing. You've got to see COMING TO AMERICA on the big screen - you've got to see Beverly Hills COP on the big screen. They should be up there. 48 HOURS? TRADING PLACES? They should be on the big screen. It would be great to see them all up there again.
PC: While you both are working together now on LAST DANCE, you previously have each shared the set with a provocative filmmaker who tragically just committed suicide, Tony Scott.
RW: This is true - Rob did six seasons of NUMB3RS with Tony Scott and Tony directed Beverly Hills COP 2 for me.
PC: What was your experience like working with him on NUMB3RS, Rob? The news of his death has been so shocking.
RM: It has - I just wrote a little piece and my PR people sent it to HuffPost, I think. You know, I just loved him and I loved working with him. Part of the reason I signed on to do that show was because of Ridley Scott and Tony Scott's involvement. I started studying the films of both of those guys when I was a kid in the 80s and I always loved Tony's films - even if I didn't love the content of them, I loved the cinema of them.
PC: What an illuminating differentiation.
RM: Yeah - I loved the way he made his films. I started basically begging both Tony and Ridley to come do the show once I signed on - even though that was never a part of the plan - and they kept blowing me off.
PC: No way!
RM: They did - and they had fairly legitimate reasons! They both had absolutely insane schedules - they worked 20 hours a day, seven days a week. So, every year, we would have an annual meeting, with one or both of them there, and I would say to them, you know, "The PR value of you showing your belief in the show by directing it would mean so much;" and I just threw everything at them. Eventually, Tony came on to direct the show.
PC: How long into the run was that?
RM: It was the first episode of the fourth season.
PC: Your diligence paid off!
RM: Oh, it was such a blast!
PC: Why, in particular?
RM: You know, directors rarely push me to do more - especially in TV; they are usually happy to just get something that works and move on. But, Tony was relentless and one step ahead of me - he was literally bouncing up and down in between takes. He would get me so amped up! For instance, I would come into a room with a machine gun and I would have to take out a couple of guys and the way the technical advisor says to do it is, "You don't come in and spray them with bullets, you hit them like 'pump, pump, pump, pump,'" but, Tony would get me so amped up that I would just come in the room and exhaust the magazines in two seconds! So, he would get me more magazines so I could do it again and the best part of it was that it doubled the budget! Doubled!
PC: No way!
RM: That may be the first time that that happened ever in episodic TV - double the budget? That doesn't happen; ever. Ever!
PC: It's highly unusual. He was a producer, though, too, so perhaps he could make an exception for his own direction in that case?
RM: It went like this: he p*ssed the other producers off! You're right, though, that they couldn't control him, of course, because he was their boss, technically, so what happened was that the studio turned around and they didn't say, "Oh, no, we understand! It's Tony Scott!" No, they just took it out of the budget of every subsequent episode. I mean, I direct as well and even for myself, the budget was cut so I couldn't get the crane that I wanted or whatever it was because Tony had blown it on the first episode - but, hey, you know what? I didn't care! To me, it was worth it - it was a badge of pride that my budget got cut so Tony Scott could have better footage. I mean, he shot so much footage - like, for instance, in the helicopter shots for that episode he shot like hours and hours of stuff - and that is just never done in TV! For decades to come, there are going to be chase sequences I am going to see on TV that take place on the water shot from a helicopter that will look familiar to me and that is because somebody will have bought Tony's footage and is using it. There was so much that they could sell it for a lot! [Laughs.]
PC: When was the last time you saw him?
RM: Let's see… [Pause.] The 100th episode party. I think I may have gone to a premiere since then, too. [Pause. Sighs.] He was such a character - he had so much energy and a really great way of shooting. He would shoot with multiple cameras all the time and he never used a slate at the start of a scene - which would drive the editors crazy - but, what was great about it was that there was no artificial beginning to the scene and everyone was comfortable. He would use lots of long lenses and stand really far away, so you never knew who he was shooting at one time - so, as a result, you never felt tight or self-conscious. He created a really, really great environment to play. And, you know, that's why the performances are so naturalistic in all of his movies - because you always felt like no one was around watching you! He was off a block away, shooting on 600mm.
PC: Bob, you of course worked with Tony on his follow-up to TOP GUN, Beverly Hills COP 2, when he was at a career high. How did you manage to score him for that project - a sequel, no less?
RW: Well, I was the executive producer of the film and I managed Eddie Murphy at the time, too. I was working with Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer - the guys who had done TOP GUN - and they suggested Tony and I thought he was a great, great choice.
PC: What a coup for COP 2!
RW: It worked out really well for the film and I think that that had a lot also to do with the fact that it was a good story - if I do say so, since I wrote it! [Laughs.]
PC: It is a foremost example of an equal sequel.
RW: Thank you. To be honest, Eddie and I wrote it together out of desperation, really - Don and Jerry couldn't come up with a script, so Eddie said to me, "My mother is spending a fortune on my house in New Jersey, we gotta make COP 2 and we still don't have a script!" And, so, I said, "We can come up with something. Let's sit down and come up with something. We'll figure it out." That's a true story - and the rest is history.
PC: Indeed it is. This has been such a fascinating chat - all my best luck with LAST DANCE. Broadway is more than ready for a disco show!
RW: This was just fabulous, Pat - it was great talking to you.
RM: Thanks so much for doing this, Pat. It was a blast.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro